Michael Hulett, 12, and several other youngsters are hurling adobe mud at the low wall that hunches along three sides of the small courtyard in front of the Historic Old San Ysidro Church.
Hulett, a member of Corrales Boy Scout Troop 703, and his companions are not up to mischief. In this case, splattering a wall with mud is a matter of community service, not vandalism.
“If you trowel the adobe onto the wall, it leaves air pockets,” Francisco Uviña said. “If you throw it on, it sticks better. Then we can go back with a trowel and make it look pretty.”
Uviña knows mud. He is the interim director of the historic preservation and regionalism program in the University of New Mexico’s Department of Architecture and Planning.
“I teach historic preservation classes, adobe classes, anything to do with earthen architecture,” he said.
Uviña’s work has taken him around the world – Mexico, Peru, Iran, Mali. But on this cool, sunny morning a week ago, he was lending his expertise to the Corrales Historical Society’s mudding day at the Old Church.
“I like to work a lot on community projects,” he said. “With a little money and a lot of volunteers you can go a long way.”
On this day, there are about 40 volunteers. In addition to members of the historical society and Boy Scout Troop 703, there are retirees and moms and dads with their children. The old, the not-so-old and the very young work side by side.
Some are raking up leaves, or pruning limbs, or picking up litter. Others, following Uviña’s directions, are knocking old, crumbling adobe from the courtyard wall.
“We don’t want to apply (fresh) adobe to loose plaster,” he explains.
Some volunteers are digging up dirt from the ground at the base of the wall, dirt that has been washing from the wall for years. They clean the trash and debris out of that dirt and take it to the automatic mixer where it will be churned into new adobe mud.
And some are throwing that mud at the wall.
Heart of the village
Construction on the Old San Ysidro Church started in 1868 after a flood demolished an earlier church. It served the Corrales Catholic community until the new San Ysidro Church was built in the 1960s at 5015 Corrales Road. Now owned by the village of Corrales, the Historic Old Church is maintained and managed by the Corrales Historical Society and used for community functions and cultural events.
Dating back to the 1970s when the historical society took charge of the Old Church, there has been a tradition of an annual church mudding. In past years, it would start on a Saturday morning, last most of that day and then continue on Sunday for as long as it took to finish the work. A highlight of the weekend was the potluck lunches that provided a break from the mudding, raking, trimming and picking up.
That tradition was rudely interrupted in July 2013 when a wicked rain and hail storm came in from the north and ruthlessly pummeled the church. The damage done was too severe to be fixed by good-hearted, hard-working volunteers with limited skills. More than $60,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds and another $40,000 raised by a historical society fundraising drive was used to hire an expert in historic preservation and adobe construction to oversee the repairs.
But the use of federal grant money for repairs and insurance provisions resulted in restrictions. Unskilled volunteers are no longer permitted to do adobe patchwork on the church building itself or on the annex building south of the church.
As a result, the annual mudding tradition came to an end. Until now.
Mary Davis, who heads up the historical society’s archives committee, said there has been a push to bring back the tradition because members of the Corrales community realized that the annual mudding tradition was about more than slapping adobe on the church. It’s about roots and purpose and identity.
“It’s a community spirit kind of thing,” said John Derr, chairman of the historical society’s maintenance and preservation committee.
So, a week ago the tradition – including the potluck lunch – was back.
Suanne Derr, John’s wife and historical society treasurer, said the mudding project satisfies the need to pitch in for the common good.
“The historical society is all volunteers,” she said. “No one is ever paid. We must have 50 docents who are not paid. They do the potlucks and the coffee (for church muddings), they work at the (Corrales) Harvest Festival and (Corrales) Heritage Day. They give tours of the church.”
It all comes back to the Historic Old Church.
“We like to see the church as the heart of the village,” Davis said. “But if there is no one there caring for it, that gets lost. We need this.”
Besides, no federal money was used on that low wall around the courtyard. There are no rules against mudding it.
A muddy good time
“I’m learning how to throw adobe on the wall and how to flatten the adobe,” Boy Scout Hulett said. “Then we will do a second layer to make it pretty.”
Hulett is a Life Scout, just one level shy of the top Scout rank of Eagle. He said he doesn’t know if there is a Boy Scout merit badge for doing adobe work, but he is going to look into it.
Boy Scout Troop 703 often participates in community events such as helping the Friends of the Corrales Library set up tables for book sales and cleaning up litter along Corrales and Loma Larga roads. The mudding day project is special because it is different.
“It is very fun,” Hulett said. “It feels like you are playing in the mud.” And it’s good for the heart – and the hearts – of Corrales.